Syrian Kurds Facing Strategic Choice

The Syrian government has proposed that Kurdish armed groups join its army amid the ongoing conflict with Turkey. Concerning the security situation in northern Syria, the fact that the Kurdish troops are joining the Syrian government army, taking control of the region and suppressing the remaining radical Islamist groups can help restore the rule of law, ensure a peaceful life and improve the security situation, writes Boris Dolgov, Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the RAS Institute of Oriental Studies.

The Syrian government has been trying to convince Kurdish armed groups to join the ranks of its army for a very long time. After the Turkish military operation to create so-called “security zones” in areas controlled by the Kurds started, these negotiations have only intensified. We should note that the Kurdish armed groups do not form an integrated military structure, do not obey a single command and follow orders. Although a part of the Kurdish troops joined the Syrian army, its full-scale integration is unlikely at the moment, since a critical part of their military and political command has ties with the United States, receives some help from them, and counts on their support. The United States has its interests in the Syrian conflict: that is to eliminate the unwanted leadership of Bashar al-Assad (who is an ally of Iran) or at least to dismember the country in order to weaken Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, to squeeze Russia out of the Middle East, and to gain access to Syria’s oil fields.

The US Is Too Late to Push Turkey and the Syrian Kurds to an Agreement
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Abandoned by the US abruptly, the Kurds will lose their autonomy and will have to work with Russia and the regime to at least retain their land and to get protection from Turkey. Iran, on the other hand, also has leverage on the broader Kurdish movement, primarily through their influence over Iraq.

Stemming from these goals, America continues to support the Kurdish forces, because their intention to create an independent Kurdish state in Syria coincides with its interests. At the same time, the United States takes into account the interests of Turkey, which, in turn, is dependent on Washington in the financial, economic and military-political spheres as well as NATO. In October, to coordinate their actions in Syria, the two countries made a deal to establish a specific US-Turkish Center. According to the agreement, the United States recognised the legitimacy of the Turkish “security zone” along the Syrian-Turkish border. What is important is that along with the Turkish army, armed Syrian Islamist groups, which are allying with Turkey and opposing Damascus, are participating in the operation in northern Syria. These groups may control this “security zone” along with the Turkish army, so this territory will be removed from the jurisdiction of Damascus, which is in line with Turkish and American interests.

In turn, the United States stated that it is leaving some of its military staff to “protect” the Syrian oil fields. However, these actions violate the principle of honouring the territorial integrity of Syria, which is recognised by all external actors, including the United States and Turkey. At the same time, it is noteworthy that in northern Syria there were some incidents in the zone of Turkish military operation. The local population protested against the Turkish invasion and has clashed with Turkish patrols (sometimes even with joint Russian-Turkish patrols). There were also several acts of terrorism, – for example, directed against a Turkish-backed Syrian armed group, the so-called Free Syrian Army.

Concerning the security situation in northern Syria, the fact that the Kurdish troops are joining the Syrian army, taking control of the region and suppressing the remaining radical Islamist groups can help restore peace, law and order, and the improvement of security. In this regard, the Russian Foreign Ministry proposed that the Syrian army may enter the areas along the Syrian-Turkish border, from which the US army should withdraw. That way, the territorial integrity of Syria would be preserved, and the national rights of the Kurdish population, as Syrian citizens within the framework of the existing constitution of the SAR or a new one, would be respected.

At the same time, Kurdish armed groups would integrate into the Syrian army, and Turkey would maintain security since the Syrian army would not allow any terrorists to penetrate the Syrian-Turkish border. However, the external actors and some of the local forces operating in Syria are more concerned with their interests.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.